Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jack and Red part VIII - James it is.

This is the eight in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

James - or is it Jimmy.

Red ran over to the car after the post-game pep talk from the coaches. She was flush with another team victory - even though she didn't score the winning goal this game. We climbed into the car and I drove off to meet up with Grandma and Red's parents who would still be at the church.

There wasn't much to talk about, about the game, so soon Red introduced a new topic for conversation. 

"I saw you and Jimmy talking in the stands." She said.

"Why yes, I met your friend James." I said.  "He came over and sat next to me and we had a nice chat.

"I bet you did." She said with a tone of sarcasm. "So what did you and Jimmy talk about?

"Well, first off, how much he hates being called 'Jimmy'.

"Oh yeah, that. I know he does.

"But you still call him 'Jimmy?

"Yeah, it bugs him and I like to rattle his cage.

"Does anyone else call him Jimmy?

"No, I don't think so.  He'd probably beat em up if they did." She laughed. "Or, at least try to."

"So if you know he hates it so much, why do you do it."

"Jimmy takes himself too seriously, you know."

I nodded and though; "Ya think?"

She paused for a minute and then continued; "And I like to tease him  -  maybe knock him down a peg or two."

"And he doesn't beat you up?"

"I'd like to see him try." She said defiantly. I glanced her way and nodded. Her scowl turned to a smile and she continued; "No, he doesn't seem to mind it so much when I do it."

"I think he likes you." I said smiling.

"Who, Jimmy?" She said incredulously, "No, no, no.  The only one Jimmy likes is himself."

"Hmm."; I said and glanced at her again.  She was looking out the window - watching the houses go by.

After a while she sighed and looked back at me.

"So, " she continued, " what did you guys talk about."

"Well, he says that you've been keeping him pretty much up on everything we've talked about."

"Yeah, I tell him a few things."

"More than a few, I'd say. He seems to know about all our ideas."

"Is that a problem?"

"No, no, no. I think it's great that you talk about this with your friends. Maybe it will get them to thinking outside the box a little too."

"Well, not Jimmy." She laughed.

"No, I can see that. He thinks my ideas are hogwash."

"Did he say that?" She stopped laughing.

"Yes, he pretty much did. He read me the riot act saying I was delusional and possibly dangerous."

"Jimmy's a jerk, Grandpa. I can't believe he got onto your case about this!" She protested.

"Well it was really kind of cute, you know. He was really sticking up for you. Kind of defending your honor and all that. He was really getting in the face of 'this old coot' who is trying to fill your head with fairy tales and fantasy. Yeah, it was really kind of cute."

"Cute? Are you kidding me? Cute?"

"Well, yes. I think he must care about you a lot to be so defensive about what we talk about."

"Oh please! Grandpa, be serious, alright? " 

"No, you know. I think maybe he's a little jealous." I said, laughing.

"Grandpa!" she cried. "Boy, just wait till I see him again. I'm gonna give him a piece of my mind. I can't believe he was that rude."

"Oh, come on Red. Don't make such a big deal out of this".

"It's not me who's making it a big deal, Grandpa, It's Jimmy. He thinks he's so smart but he's really dumber than anybody. And I can't believe he's such a jerk."

"Please, Red. " I said. "Take it easy on him. He seems like a nice kid and I've invited him to come over to the house so we can talk about this some more."

"You what?" She cried. "You invited him over so he could mock you some more?"

"Yes, I did." I continued. "I told him to come over with you sometime so we could all have a nice chat."

"With me?" She was astonished. "Why would you even think that I'd want to sit around and listen to you two go at each other?"

"Oh, I'm sure it won't be that bad, Red," I said calmly, "you never know what new ideas we might come up with."

"New ideas? Jimmy? He wouldn't know what a new idea was if you hit him over the head with it."

"Actually," I laughed, "that sound's like a good idea. Let's get our 2X4's ready and we can really get his attention."

"What?" she asked.

"You know that old joke about the farmer who said that the secret to handling his mule was to be talk softly to it - and then he hit it over the the head with a 2X4. When asked how this was being gentle the farmer said; "Well, first you have to get his attention."

"Cute, Grandpa." She laughed. "But I think we're going to need more than a 2X4 with Jimmy."

"Maybe a 4X4?" I laughed.

"Yeah, that might do it." She said, laughing.

"Or maybe we just need to be ready with some strong arguments. Or maybe gather the squirrels." I said.

"No, you didn't tell him about the squirrels, did you Grandpa?"

"Hey, " I said, "YOU told him about the squirrels."

"Oh yeah, that's right." She said sheepishly. " I guess forgot about that."

"You guess. Well he had a lot of fun with that as well."

"I bet he did." She said; "He's such a jerk. I can't believe it." And she looked out the window again for a while while we thought about this.

"I'm sorry, Grandpa" she said finally.  "I shouldn't have told him about all this stuff. I never thought he's take it so seriously. And I never thought he'd be so rude as to insult you like that."

"It's no matter. " I assured her. "I look forward to having another chance to open up James' - I'm sorry, Jimmy's - mind a little."

"Be careful, Grandpa, he might beat you up." She laughed.

"I'd like to see him try." I laughed as we pulled into the church parking lot.

[Continue next chapter]

Friday, November 1, 2013

Jack and Red Part VII: Jimmy

This is the seventh in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

Part VII:   Jimmy

It was Saturday morning and I was sitting in the stands at Red's soccer game. Grandma Pynesapp was helping prepare for a church supper with Red's parents so I volunteered to drive Red to the game this morning.  It was half way through the first period and Red was still sitting on the bench (figuratively speaking) when a young man, who was about Red's age, walked over and sat down beside me.

"You're Red's Grandpa?" It wasn't a question.

"Hello. My name is Jack Pynesapp and yes, I am Red's Grandfather. How did you know?"

"I saw you drive up with her and you're too old to be her dad."

I thought, "Too old huh? Well thanks a lot, kid

I said; "That's some pretty good deduction work."

"Yup. I'm pretty good at that." He beamed.

"So, I'm Jimmy." He continued, "I'm a friend of Red's"

"Hi Jimmy. It's a pleasure to meet you. Red talks about you a lot."

"Yup. I know. Did she tell you how smart I am?"

"Yes, she says that you're very smart and that you know a lot about the universe."

"Yup, I'm really in to space, and science, and all that stuff."

"Well,  I'm interested in all that - stuff - too."

"Yup, I know. Red's told me all about it."

"She has, has she?"

"Yup, she says you believe that black holes are interstellar vacuum cleaners."


"Yup, and she says that you believe there's more than one universe."

"Jimmy, I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that I believed this."

"Well Red says you do."

"She does?"

"Yup, She says you've been talking about this and you've been telling her all sorts of other crazy stuff that isn't true."

"She's told you that she thinks this 'stuff' isn't true?"

"Nope, She never said that because she believes you".

"Look, Jimmy. It's not a mater of believe or not believe, or even true and not true.  Red and I talk about things and we think about things and we have fun exploring possibilities."

"Yup, I know. So you make things up. "

 "I don't know if I'd say that. But we do think about alternatives."

"Yup, I know that. But Mr. Pynesapp, aren't you a little old for make believe?"

"Well, I don't think you're ever too old (or too young for that matter) for make believe. But even so, how do you know this is make believe."

"Hey, it's simple.  Even I know it's make believe and I'm just a kid. This stuff is crazy! You know? This stuff you're telling Red -  it's fantasy. It's a bunch of bull.

"You think so, do you?"

"Yup, I know so." He continued; "Like - things really get smaller as you walk away from them. Are you serious? Give me a break. And the bit about each of us living in our own universe? Earth to Mr. Pynesapp. Oh please!"

I realized that what Jimmy was saying was probably true but he was starting to rub me the wrong way so I wasn't going to give in.

"How can you be so sure that we're wrong?"

"'We'? Who we? You really think Red really believes this crap?"

"I don't care if she believes it or not. Like I said it's not about believe or not believe. It's just looking at things a little differently, that's all. We're exercising our minds."

"Warping your minds  - more like. You're an adult, Mr Pynesapp. You're supposed to be setting a good example for us kids. Not filling our minds with garbage."

I was about to say something snide about all the video games, movies, and TV shows but I didn't think it would help my case so I decided to let it pass. After all, how much of this stuff is produced by kids? When you think about it he has a strong point to make."

"Come on Jimmy, you're smart .."

"Yup, I'm very smart." He interrupted.

".. yes, and you must realize that there are still mysteries to be solved in the universe. No matter how smart you are. Even you don't know everything. We can't know everything - none of us can."

"Yup, I know that Mr Pynesapp..."

I interrupted; "Jimmy, why don't you call me 'Jack'. Okay?"

I figured that if we were going to argue philosophy we could, at least be on a first name basis.

"Yup, okay - Jack." He paused for a minute and let this sink in. Maybe I'd thrown him a curve. But then he continued ".. maybe we can't know everything but some people know an awful lot about this stuff. People like Newton, Einstein, Hawking, Higgs, and Hubble. These guys have spent their whole lives studying this stuff. They know a whole lot more about it than you do."

"Yes, you're right Jimmy. And I don't pretend to know as much as they do - and I don't pretend to be anywhere as smart. But that doesn't mean that I can't use my senses and my sense to think about possibilities."

"Yup, I know - to make up lies and then try to spread these lies around onto unsuspecting kids."

"Come on Jimmy, don't you ever look up at the stars and wonder what's really going on up there?"

"Yup. I've done that. But I know what's going on up there. I've read about space and the stars and all that stuff -- about comets, galaxies, black holes, nova's and supper nova's. I know what's going on up there because all these smart guys have already figured it out and I've learned all about it from them."

"Well, what about dark matter? What about a unified theory? They haven't figured this stuff (as you call it) out."

"Maybe not. But they've got telescopes, and super computers, particle accelerators, and caverns deep in the mountains filled with water to help them figure this stuff out. What have you got, Jack?" He said with a snide smile.

"I've got my eyes and my ears and my brain. And, most importantly, I have learned how to keep and open mind."

"Yup, you're right, you're out of your mind more like."

I'd had about as much of this kid as I could take in one sitting and as luck would have it, Red was just heading onto the field. So I was saved by the bell - so to speak.

"Jimmy, Red's going into the game now and I'd like to watch her play. You know, I have an idea; why don't you come over to the house with Red sometime and we can talk about this some more."

"That sounds great Jack. Will the squirrels be there too?"

"Ah, I see that Red has told you about them, too."

"Yup, she told me. "So," he continued, "I guess if they're there, at least I'll have someone intelligent to talk to."

"Well,  well, ", I laughed. "You know, you may be right about that. I look forward to hearing that conversation."

"Yup, me too. See ya, Jack." He said smugly as he got up and started to walk away.

"Good bye, Jim. " I retorted.

And I settled back and enjoyed the rest of Red's game. I wasn't sure if I was really looking forward to seeing Jimmy again.

[Continue with next chapter...]

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Weaving my way.

Warps and Wefts.

There's a connection to things that we may not see right away. Last week I had planned to make the trip up to our farm but I pulled something in my back and so I decided not to go. The plan was to build a shelter for the well to protect it from freezing, prune some trees (an ongoing task), bring back the trailer loaded with wood, visit with my brother and his family,  and fetch some the apples from our little orchard for drying. These things didn't get done - obviously - and now the optimal time to do them has passed. I have moved on and there are holes in the fabric of my life where these events should have been woven.

There's nothing critical or life threatening and hopefully the renters are taking care of the well - they will have no water if it freezes - but it goes another winter without a permanent solution.

There is 60 acres of our young woodlot that needs to be tended. I can't hope to do this properly from 300 miles away but with every trip I make another dent and this all adds up. And missed opportunities are lost ground.

Our woodpile is made up of hard hardwood this year. It is nicely seasoned and since it is hard hardwood it burns hot but it is rather hard to start on these fall days when a little fire in the stove would take the chill off. The trailer at the farm is loaded with wood from the old barn (wood that has failed the test for re-usability) and ready for the trip.  This is mostly old hardwood and it makes wonderful kindling. Now I miss having it here. It will still be welcome when I finally do bring it down but it won't fit quite so well into the patchwork.

We are all starting to show the signs of age and a visit with my family right now would be timely. We can compare notes on our health and share our plans for the coming months. This is precious time together and it is fabric that becomes more delicate and rare with the passing time.

The winter apples on the old Big Ben tree are ripe for picking. The apples are their best after a couple light frosts but will not stand too many hard ones. I may have missed them already. Now that we have a fire in the stove I could be drying these apples for a winter treat.

This isn't the first time this has happened to me. I have canceled trips at the last minute before.  Most of these went unnoticed and were easily forgotten (and probably just as well not taken.) However every now and then, as now, I regret the missed trip.  There were reasons that I planned this trip. It was part of the pattern upon which my life is woven and not taking it has left holes that can never be mended - I can't go back and complete the weave.  No, these are not major holes, like some in my life have been. These are merely a dropped stitch here and there that nobody would probably notice except for me.

The fact that I feel this way leads me to believe that there is a pattern that my life tends to follow. Not predestined, I think, because I do (as illustrated here) have the power of choice - the final say. But perhaps it's more of a synchrony with another - something. It's more than a script. Deeper than that and more fundamental; more like a form of peer pressure. More like fitting in with another copy of the same fabric. Synching with another weaver, perhaps, who is weaving from an identical pattern.  Somehow I know what that 'other' fabric looks like. I know how it turned out - what it looks like without the flaws. I don't know how I know this, or how I can know this, but I do.

There is another side, now that I think about it. I'm not saying that the 'fabric' to which I am synchronized is perfect. I have 'seen' holes and flaws in this copy that are not matched in my life. Errors that I have not made. Stitches that were dropped in that other copy that I have not dropped in mine. For this I am allowed to take some sense of relief - some sense of pride. But I do not criticize or judge this other work nor do I mock the weaver. I feel empathy in the most fundamental way. Truly, there but for the grace of God, go I.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Give 'em an inch....

Give 'em an Inch 

Five years ago I retired. Three months ago I went back to work. Why?

Since retiring I have maintained some contacts on campus and the other day one of them asked if I would cover for him while he went on vacation. He is the IT guy for a small department and he takes a month off in the summer during the quite time. He hires a person for an hour a day to monitor the servers, network, and his email account - and provide emergency user support. I said; "Sure, what the heck. That sounds like fun." It's only for a month. I can spare that from my busy life.

The first day there I ran into one of the professors who was also the IT Director for the college. After briefly catching up he mentioned that another department was looking for an IT Guy and had been having some bad luck over the years trying to find someone. Would I be interested in talking to them? I said; "Sure, what the heck. That might be fun."

The next day I got an email from the department administrator (whom I knew because she used to be head of HR for the college when I worked there).  Could I stop in and talk about the position?

We scheduled a meeting.

Hiram Smith Hall
The first thing she said when I sat down was; "What can we do for you?" This floored me and while I thought of an answer she suggested we take a tour.  As we walked through the recently remodeled but still classic building, she described the position as well as she could. Her perspective was 'non-IT' but this was the best she could do because they were currently without any IT support and the last person to leave didn't do so 'happily'. But I recognized what the job was - both from experience and from what I'd heard from other people - and believed that I would have no trouble filling it. It was a new slant on my old job so it sounded like it might be fun.

It turned out that what they could do for me was to provide a nice office, very flexible schedule working half time (basically any hours I wanted), a promise of full backing and support (and adoration from - almost - all). The salary wouldn't be all that great but it wouldn't effect my pension or social security. Kind of like a job at Walmart, only much more fun.

So I was torn. If you know me, you know that I don't do well with decisions. I see too many sides and it's hard to settle on one - for good. On the one hand, I have enjoyed retirement. It has given me the time to work on, and become somewhat proficient in, woodworking (custom furniture design and construction), music, writing, and most important; forestry and forest management. But in the end the timing turned out to be right. They caught me during my annual let-down after an intense baseball season (I umpire for high school, legion, and little league) and before I settled into my woodworking, writing, and farming (foresting) routine. So I said; "What the heck, it might be fun."

I started the following Monday.

To be continued...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Jack and Red - Part VI

This is the sixth in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

This was Red's first year in soccer. Her Jr. High team had their first game this morning. Red only got to play for about half a period towards the end of the game but she had an assist on her team's only goal which, as it turned out, was enough to win the game 1-0 (ya gotta love soccer.)

After the game, Grandma and I took Red and her parents to lunch to celebrate the glorious victory. Red recounted every step in the winning goal at least once and we, of course, were a rapt audience. Her excitement was contagious and her energy filled the room.

After lunch, Red came home with Grandma and me,  J.J. and Gwen wanted to pick up some bedding plants and gardening supplies and Red really wasn't interested in tagging along. Grandma served up some tall glasses of lemonade and we all sat on the back porch and enjoyed the cool breeze in what was turning out to be a warm and sunny day. Grandma and I listened as Red went over her play-by-play of the winning goal for one more time. It's a story that doesn't get old in the re-telling.
When she finished we sat and thought about the game for a while. After a while Red asked; "So, Grandpa, what's up for today? Another walk?"
"Sure, why not." I said. "It's easier to ponder the mysteries of the universe while we're walking, don't you think?"

"Yep, " she said, "and it's easier to find a place to get an ice cream cone."

"That's right too." I agreed.

Grandma protested, "I can't believe you're already thinking about ice cream. We just ate."

"Aw, Grandma, there's always room for ice cream. Are you coming with us?"

"No, no, no; you two run along. I've got some things I need to do here and it will be good to get Grandpa out from under foot for a while."

"There you go, Red, you heard her yourself. " I laughed. "Grandma admitted that she walks all over me."

 "I most certainly do not." Grandma said with mock indignation.  "Now you two get going and be careful."

"Okay Grandma, see ya." Red said as she started down the porch steps.

"Good bye, dear." I said. "We'll be back in a bit."

So we headed down the road towards town and the ice cream store. It was only about half a mile away and an easy walk for us. There are still only a few houses on this side of town and very little traffic on this old country road because it really doesn't lead to anywhere in particular. This makes it great for walking.

As we settled into a leisurely pace I said; "have you thought anything about what we were talking about last time?"

"Yeah, you said that when we look at the shed in the distance that we are really looking into the future."

"I did say that, yes."

"Well Grandpa, I think you're wrong."

"You do, do you?" I feigned surprise. "How so?"

"Well, I've been talking with my friends and Jimmy, who's really into astronomy and stars and all that, said that they are using the Hubble Telescope to look at objects that are far away - all the way out at the edge of the universe."

"I've heard of that."

"And according to Jimmy they figure the images they are seeing are from objects as they existed around the time shortly after the big bang." 

"They're looking back in time? How's that possible?"

"I know - right? That's amazing! But here's the deal grandpa," she explained, "When we look at things we see them because of the light they either generate or reflect. Right?"


"So light travels at a fixed speed and the farther away an object is from us the longer it takes for the light to reach us."

"I think I know where this is headed, but go ahead."

"Right - but just wait! So if we look at an object that is so far away that it takes a year for the light from that object to reach us, then what we're seeing is an image of that object as it looked a year ago - when the light we are seeing actually left it. "

"Let me see if I've got this right." I said. "So, if we see an object that's a million light years away what we're seeing is an image of that object as it looked a million years ago."

"Yeah,  and it could have blown up and completely disappeared by now and we wouldn't even know it."

"Okay, that makes sense, I guess."

She continued; "So when we look at the shed, what we actually see is an image of the shed as it existed a fraction of a second ago; the time it takes for the light to reach us from across the yard. So we're looking into the past - not the future."

"So that's what Jimmy said, huh?"

"Yeah, well Jimmy started it and I finished it."

"Well, I think he's probably absolutely right," I admitted, "and so are you."

I could tell that Red was feeling pretty good about this. She was strutting along as we walked; kicking a small rock ahead of her like a soccer ball.  She'd kick it ahead and run after it and kick it again and then wait for me to catch up before running up to it again.

We walked along like this for a while as I thought through this contradiction. Finally I caught up to her and said; "You know, Red, this doesn't really change anything."

"But I proved that you were wrong, Grandpa, how does that not change everything."

"Because, you see, even though the image of the shed is from the past, it can still be in our future."

"That's impossible, Grandpa." She laughed. "How can something be both in the past and in the future?"

"Easy, it's like planning a trip using an old map."

She returned to her rock soccer game.  I followed behind. We walked on in silence for a while.


I could tell that I got her on this one. I had knocked her down a few pegs and I wanted to build her back up again so I changed the subject.

"Red, remember the other day when we were talking about how objects (and people) that we see around us - that share our existence - all have their own universe?  Have you thought any more about how it might work?"

"We-e-l-l, " she said tentatively. She paused for a minute and then continued with new resolve, "Grandpa, you know that just popped into my head. I wasn't really serious. And the more I think about it the more I realize it was a crazy idea."

"Are you sure it was so crazy?" I asked. "We're brainstorming, remember? And that's all about crazy ideas popping into our heads. No idea is crazy."

"But," she protested, "do you really think that you have your own universe and I have my own universe?"

"Quite possibly. And each of your parents have their own universes."

"Well duh, I've always known that." she kidded.

"Yeah, but that's a whole other subject." I laughed. 

"So," she continued, "my dog and and my cat would have their own universe too then, right?"

"Okay, I guess so, but let's just consider your universe and mine for now; just to keep it simple." I suggested.

"Yeah, right - simple." she laughed.

Red tired of 'stone soccer' and we started watching for interesting things that may be laying on or near the road as we walked along. Every now and then she would stop to pick up a stone from the gravel shoulder to see if it was an agate or some other treasure. Satisfied that it was just an ordinary rock, she would drop it and walk on.

After a while she said; "Ya know, I gotta tell you Grandpa, my universe is pretty full. If you have a universe that's exactly like mine -- "

"Almost exactly like yours." I interrupted. "And remember, that it's only almost exactly like yours because you're walking next to me right now."

"Okay, almost exactly like mine. So your universe is full too. So how is there room for both universes when one fills everything up all by itself."

"Well, you said it yourself, remember? When I asked how everything would fit, you said 'fit where?'."

"Yeah, I remember that. I was messing with you Grandpa, you know that don't you."

"Well, maybe so. But that got me to thinking. Here, let's try something."

"Another experiment?"

"Yeah, sort of. "

"I'm going to say 'boo' right now and I want you to remember everything you can about the instant that I say it. "

"Boo!" I said as we kept walking.

Then I continued, "Okay, do you remember when I said 'BOO'?"

"Well duh, you just said it."

"Right! And both our universes existed at the time I said 'BOO". Remember that? Both our universes needed to be in that time. But now they are in this time - this second - and they are no longer in that time."

"Okay. So?"

"You see, our universes no longer need that time so it is available to any other universe that may need it now. We can't go back to that time. Maybe because it is already in use by some other universe. Maybe there have already been a million universes or a gazillion universes that have used that time and moved on, in turn, the same as we have. "



"You lost me here. What are you talking about?"

"Time, " I insisted, "I'm talking about time."

"Yeah, I know you're talking about time. But time isn't the same as space."

"Why not? " I ask.

"What?" She asked.

"Okay, when I said 'boo' our universes were both in a space back there where we were when I said 'boo', right?"

"Oka-a-y", she said.

"Now we're no longer in that space, right? We've moved on and now we're up here."

"Yes, but that space is still back there - along with all the things that were there when we passed through it. I can see them back there. The trees, the rocks, the road. It's all still there."

She turned and pointed back where we'd been.

I said, "Yes, but we're no longer there and neither are our universes. And all those things are still there - they're still in our universe (I'm sorry, in our universes) - but they've changed. Those things are different now that they are farther away from us. For one thing, they are smaller."

"Or, they just look smaller." she said.

"Look smaller or are smaller; it doesn't matter. All that stuff back there is different now than it was when I said 'boo'. Our universes have changed since then and it's both a matter of time and space.

"How can the universe change?" "The universe is the universe. It doesn't change just like that."

"But it does change. It's always changing. Like you said, stars explode; galaxies form; matter turns to energy and back again. And thing that changes it is time."

"Time has to be considered whenever we are talking about our existence. It is as much a part of the our universes as the three dimensions we think of when we think of space. Or existence is defined by both space and time. They call it 'space/time'."

"Space/time? You've been talking to the squirrels again, haven't you Grandpa." Red giggled.

"Yes, space/time. And, no I still don't understand the squirrels." I laughed.

I continued; "But it used to be said that time was the fourth dimension of our existence. Just as important as the first three in defining our existence and our location (I want to say 'in the universe' but that kind of doesn't make sense if I'm trying to rationalize the existence of multiple universes.)"





"Boo!" she said again and giggled. "That's fun, grandpa. But what is the difference between our universes when I said the first 'boo' and the second 'boo' if we were being perfectly still - not moving at all?"

"But you see that even if we could stand perfectly still - you're only standing still in space. You can't stand still in time because it's impossible to stop moving in time."

"Impossible? But grandpa, we're brainstorming remember, nothing is impossible."

"Okay, let's assume it's possible to stop time. You still can't even stand perfectly still in space."

"I can too. Watch."

Red stopped walking and froze like a statue. I waited for her to blink but she's good, so I gave in and said "Yep, that's pretty good - but remember the elevator?"

"The elevator?"

"It only seems like you're standing perfectly still. But remember that you are still moving because you are standing on the earth and the earth is spinning you around at one revolution per day And the earth is orbiting the sun at some god-awful speed. And our sun is dragging you, and everything else in the solar system, around our galaxy who-knows-how-fast. So even if you could hold yourself completely motionless, you're doomed to be zipping along at a breathtaking speed."

"But it doesn't feel like I'm moving at all."

"No. That's because we're really standing inside an elevator car - a very, very big elevator car. It's so big that we can barely see the walls or ceiling."

Red looked all around and said, "But we're outside. There are no walls and there isn't a ceiling."

"No, not in the normal sense. But the car is so big and the elevator shaft is so far away that our senses can't detect the motion."

"So, we're moving through time and we're whizzing through space. But what would happen if we could stop time AND get out of this 'elevator car' and stand perfectly still in space?"

Well, I thought, isn't this a good question. I've never thought of that before. I was tempted to say that this just can't happen so why worry about it, but we are brainstorming after all. I had to think for a minute. And then I thought for another minute. Just then we turned a corner in the road and we were suddenly in town with curbs and side walks. We could see the Dairy Queen just two blocks up the road and we headed for that with a burst of energy and no longer at a leisurely pace.

Only one block away Red said "I'll race you to the DQ," and she took off running.

"Winner buys!" I called out as I began trotting behind.  I don't think she heard me - or believed me if she did - because she didn't slow down. She got there well ahead of me and was already studying the menu when I dragged myself up to the counter next to her. (I need to get in shape.)

"You were just kidding about buying, right grandpa?" she laughed as she ordered a cone; dipped in chocolate and coated with nuts.

"Aah, so you did hear me. And no I wasn't kidding, but I'll pay this time and you can owe me. Okay?" I laughed as I ordered a plain vanilla cone. "I'll show you as much mercy as you showed me by leaving me in your dust. "

"Okay grandpa, just put it on my tab - alright?"

We sat at one of the patio tables and savored our ice cream. It was a beautiful afternoon and just warm enough to make the ice cream doubly good.


Ice cream gone and my breath recovered, Red started off walking back the way we had come. I said that we should keep going and circle back to the house along another road. I don't like retracing my steps when there's a chance to see new things by going in a circle.

After we settled into our pace, Red said; "Grandpa?"


"Grandpa, you didn't answer me. What if we just stopped everything?"

We were heading back out of town and leaving the sidewalk and houses behind. The road was paved but we stuck to the shoulder and the gravel crunched under our feet as we walked. The wind was nearly calm and this was the only sound we could hear - except for the sparrows in the trees next to the road and the larks in the farm fields that surrounded us.  I had gotten caught up in all this while I was thinking of an answer for Red when she interrupted my reverie.


"Well we could certainly do that in our brainstorming world, " I said finally, "but maybe this constant movement is part of the design. Maybe this is the only way everything fits. It's like cars on a freeway; as long as everyone is zipping along everything goes fine and there's room for everyone at any particular location along that tiny narrow bit of road. But if somebody suddenly stops then there's no longer nearly enough room and everyone runs into everyone else and there's a huge pileup.

"Wow, what would that look like for all these universes if it happened to them."

"Hopefully it never happens. And maybe things are designed so well that it never could happen. But I doubt that's possible. There always seems to be something that can go wrong even with the best design. And if it can go wrong, eventually it will go wrong. You know, that's the law."

"Murphy's Law, right?"

"Ha, so you've heard of that. You're so right."

"So maybe it happens all the time and we don't even realize it. If it doesn't effect us then why would we? But maybe this is what causes black holes. Everything gets bunched in one place and there's no place else for it to go. Or a black hole may be the only way to fix it when it does happen."

" Like some sort of intergalactic highway repair crew."

"Yeah, running around fixing pot holes and cleaning up after accidents."

"Have you ever seen a black hole?" Red asked.

"No, you can't see them."

"Then how do you know they're real?"

"You can't see them but you can tell that they're there. If you have a powerful enough telescope, you can see the spot where a black hole is because it's entirely black."

"Why they call them 'black holes' I guess, huh.", Red laughed.

"Yeah, that space in space looks completely empty."

"But how can it be empty if that's where the black hole is?"

"Right. It just looks empty because the black hole has such a powerful gravitational field (or 'vacuum') that it is sucking everything up that comes close to it.  It even sucks up the light that comes from other stars that are close it or behind it."

"So Grandpa, what you're saying is that the 'squirrels' told you about these black holes."

"Yeah, the squirrels." I sighed.

By now we'd nearly reached my house on our walk back home. We were passing under the old railroad trestle. A few years ago they had torn up the old train tracks and had turned it into a snowmobile trail/bike path.

Red said, "Grandpa, lets go up on the bridge."

"The trestle." I corrected.

"Okay - trestle." She said. " Let's go up there for a minute and look around."

"Okay." I said and we started picking our way up the steep slope. There was kind of a path but you still had to grab on to bushes and pull yourself along as you found foot holds in the loose ground. 

It was an old bridge made of steel I-beams that were riveted together in a criss-cross pattern - like an erector set.  The beams crossed over on top and the effect was like an open air tunnel. There was a heavy wooden deck that replaced the railroad ties and tracks. These made a clattering sound as you rode over them with a bike but were solid under foot as we walked. There was very little bike traffic out here and although this trail was well used by snowmobiles, there were - of course - none of those now.

So Red and I had the bridge to ourselves. We tucked ourselves into one of the V's and leaned back against the I-beams and looked up at the sky.  A worried expression came over Red's face.

"Grandpa, are there black holes around here? I mean, could we be sucked up by one?"

"I don't think so. I think they've only found them towards the center of of our galaxy where everything is packed together a lot tighter than it is here. We're kind of towards the outside of our galaxy and the stars are much fewer and farther apart."

"We're kind of like living in the country and the black holes are in the city, right?"  

"Exactly. Good analogy." I said. "There's hardly any traffic and very few cars out here."

"And no freeways." Red said.

"And no freeways." I said as a car went under us on the road heading towards town - the only one we've seen on our walk so far.

"Grandpa, you never said what would happen if we stopped moving somehow and at the same time we stopped time."

"I think we would cease to exist."

"What? How does that work?"

"Well, nothing in our universe could exist without movement. Everything in our universe is moving. It's the one thing that everything has in common."

"So the whole universe is in an elevator car?"

"The universe is the elevator car."

"You are only allowed to exist if you move out of the way and make room for all the other things that are moving and existing as well - in both time and space. If somehow you could stop you would no longer be allowed to exist."

"Move it or loose it?", She said.

"In a big way, yes."

"And the black holes are the enforcers." She said, "They come along and suck you out of existence, or blow you to smitherines."

"You may be right," I said, "or maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe one moment you exist and then, when you stop moving, you just don't exist any more."

"No flash of light? No huge bang? No fanfare? Nothing?"

"Maybe not."

"Well that's pretty boring." she laughed.

"I think you watch to many movies." I laughed.

After a minute I said, "We'd better head out for home. Grandma will start worrying."

 As I started to climb down the bank, Red stood on the tressle and looked down the trail. She said; "Hey Grandpa..."

I stopped and looked back at her staring down the trail. I said; "Red, I promised to tell you about that sometime soon - but not now."

She sighed; "I know grandpa." and followed me down the bank onto the roadway below.

We could see the house a few hundred yards ahead of us. We started walking.

I said; "Speaking of big bangs, the current belief is that our universe was created with a 'big bang'. There was nothing at all and suddenly there was some sort of a huge explosion and suddenly our whole universe came into existence. In the beginning it was in a very compressed form and it's been expanding ever since."

"Did the squirrels tell you this too?"

"Yeah," I said. "those squirrels again."

"So," I continued,  "maybe before the bang, everything was there but it was perfectly still - in both space and time. There was no movement at all so it couldn't exist. If that's true then the big bang would really only have needed to be like a little push. Just the slightest little nudge perhaps - just enough to get everything moving. And the instant everything began to move, it suddenly existed."  

"Boo!" Red said.


We turned into the driveway.

"So, " Red said, "you're saying there was no big bang, no flash of light, no fanfare. Everything was just there. All the galaxies, stars, planets, everything."

"Well maybe there was just massive clouds of mater and energy. Maybe there was still 'some assembly required'. At very least, all the raw materials would be there and all that would be needed was someone, or something, to put it all together."

"Like God?" Red asked as we walked into the house.

"Perhaps." I said.

"What's 'like God'?" Grandma asked as we walked into the kitchen. 

"God assembled the universe from all the stuff that suddenly appeared in the Big Bang." Red explained.

"Really." Grandma said. "Is that what you and Grandpa have been talking about?"

"Well, that's just the end of it." Red said. "There's a lot more."

"I'm sure there is." Grandma said as she gave me side-long look and a little wink.

Then she continued. "Red, your parents called and said they'll be here soon to pick you up."

Just then a car pulled into the driveway. "Good timing." Red laughed.

Red gave both Grandma and me a hug and a kiss and ran out the door.

"Bye Grandma, and thanks for the ice cream, Grandpa." She called back as she got in the car.

"You owe me." I called out but she'd already closed the door and probably didn't hear me. Just as well since I was only kidding.

We waved as they drove away.


After dinner, Grandma and I settled into the swing chairs on the back porch.

After a while she said; "Gwen called today."

"She did?"

"She's worried."

"I know."

"Have you told Red?"

"No. But she knows something's up."


"She overheard them arguing about it the other night."

"Are you going to tell her?"

"Not yet."

She sighed and said; "I guess that's best."

We watched the sun set over the shed. Two squirrels were taking turns chasing each other around the shed and up into the trees beyond the fence. Another squirrel was in the tree next to the porch just chattering away. It almost seemed like he was chattering at me.

As Grandma and I sat and rocked, the sun set behind the shed and it began to get dark. After a while the squirrel stopped chattering and went home.

[ Click here to continue to part VII ]


Friday, July 19, 2013

Jack and Red part V - Pariah

This is the fifth in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

Jack Jr. must have succeeded in appeasing Gwen's worries because the very next afternoon Red came running across the yard to meet me.

I was busy cleaning up the mess J.J. and I made when we cut up that tree.

She gave me a hug and said; "What's up Grandpa?"

"Hey, Red. I thought you'd forgotten about me or something."

"No, Grandpa, I've just been busy."

"Well, get busy and help me pick up these twigs - would you please. You've got a much better back than I do."

Red grimaced as she looked at how many twigs and small branches were laying around. I thought she was about to complain but she only sighed as she bent down and started picking up sticks.

"I guess I've worried your mom a bit, huh."

"Oh, don't worry about Mom; she's okay. She's just afraid I'll become some sort of social pariah or something."

"A what?"

"Pariah, you know, outcast, avoided like the plague."

"Pariah, huh?" I said. "Spell it."

"P-A-R-I.... I don't know how to spell it." she admitted. "It's Mom's word. Ask her how to spell it."

"That sounds like your Mom." And I though. " I'll bet she does know how to spell it."

"So," I continued, "do you think you're a P-A-R-I-whatever?"

"Aw, no way, grandpa. The kids I hang with are all just as weird as I am - if not weirder - so we get along just fine."

"Just one of the nerds huh?" I suggest.

"Nerds? - grandpa, " she said indignantly, "we're not nerds. That's a whole n-other group."

She thinks for a minute and then adds; "No, no, we're pretty cool - you know?. We're just busy doing our own thing. We're not obnoxious or stuck up or anything like that. So, everything's cool. "

"Oh, so you're one of the 'cool' kids?"

"No way! No grandpa, we're just normal kids - like I said."

"Okay, okay. Well, I'm glad to hear it."  (As if there were such a thing, I think.) "Not that you can't be different," I continue, "but you know how kids are."

"Yeah, grandpa, I know how kids are - I am one, you know."

"I know."; I laugh; "But I have to keep reminding myself of that."

"Whatever, grandpa."; Again, I've embarrassed her.

By now I'd finished raking up the sawdust from cutting up that tree. And Red had finished picking up all the bits of brush and loaded them in the wagon. She climbed on the 4-wheeler and pulled the wagon over to the pile of branches that JJ and I made the other day. We unloaded everything onto the pile . Both of us were lost in our own thoughts and we pretty much worked in silence. It only took a few minutes to unload and then I climbed onto the wagon and rode back to the garage. Red likes to drive and she's good at it so I let her.

This gave me more time to try to think up some more experiments. I'm afraid that I hadn't been doing my homework so I was going to have to try to fake it - a little bit...

"Want a soda?" she asked.

"Sounds good." I said. "I'll buy - you fly."

"What?" Red looked at me like 'what?'.

I said, "Yeah, get me one too and I'll meet you on the back porch."

Red ran into the house and for the sodas and then plopped down on the chair next to me.

"I get it Grandpa, that's cute."

"You've never heard that?"


"Hmm, it's just an old saying."

"Yeah," she said with a wry grin, "I have to keep reminding myself that you're old."

"Yeah, whatever."

We both laughed.

"So, grandpa, what's the plan for today? More brainstorming?"

We both look out over the back yard.

"If you want." I said. "How 'bout - today - you decide. "

"Okay, " she says brightly, "How 'bout today let's go for a longer walk. Like maybe down the snowmobile trail where the train used to run."

"Hmm, strange you should think of that." I say suspiciously. "Have you been talking to your Dad?"

"No." she said. "I heard Mom and Dad talking about it. That's all."

"I told your dad that it was a story for another time. This story is about our adventure. This one - yours and mine."

"Yeah,  I know. He said something about that."

"Ah-hah, so you were talking to him about it."

"No, no, no, I just..."; She pleaded. She paused for a few seconds as if searching for words. Then continued (in a more subdued note); "I just overheard him say something like that to Mom - is all."

"Oh, and when was this?"

"Last night when he was trying to convince her that I wouldn't become a pariah."

"You overheard?"

"Yeah, hard not to. They were pretty loud there for a while."

"Oh, really? What else did you hear?" I pried.

"Nothing else." she insisted. "Just that you and Dad used to like to walk along those tracks, and all."

"That's it?"

"Yeah, that's all I could make out."

"But, what's wrong with that, I wonder?"

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing." she said.

I wasn't convinced that Red had told me everything but I didn't press the issue. After all, I wasn't telling her everything either.

"But they must have figured it out in the end," I said, "right?"

"Yeah, I guess so. They seemed fine this morning... " she said, "and I'm here now so they must have."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it." I said. "And, as always, I'm glad you're here."

"Yeah, I know, so I can help you clean up the yard?" she said with a playful grin on her face.

"No, no." I protested. "Well - maybe a little. But it's nice to have someone to talk to - and someone who likes to go on walks."

[ Dear reader; I feel a little guilty for taking you on this little detour but it's only because now I understand just how important public perception is and you just can't ignore it and still expect to stay out of trouble. That much I've learned. And I understand how Gwen feels as well. Really. ]

Red didn't say anything for a minute. She had a troubled look on her face and was deep in thought so I waited.

Finally she ventured; "Grandpa jack?"


"What did you and Daddy, uh, 'brainstorm' during your walks?"

[I guess we're not done with this quite yet, folks.]

Then I said to Red; "Red, like I told your dad, that subject is for another story. That subject is for another day. This is our story - our little adventure."

"I don't see what would be so bad about telling me." she pouted.

"Red, for one thing this is obviously a sore spot with your mother."

"But, I won't tell her we talked about it," she said, "I promise!".

"I know that, Red. But I can't take the chance. You'll just have to trust me on this one. I promise you that someday I will tell you all about it."


"I said I promise and I do."

"Pinky swear?"


"Pinky swear."; She said in exasperation. "Like you've never heard of that."

"No, what is that?"

"You and I touch pinkie fingers and you swear to it. And remember, you're never allowed to break a pinky promise."

"Okay, if that will make you feel better."

We touched pinkies and I promised to tell her all about J.J.'s and my 'adventures' -- someday.

"But you know, Grandpa," She added slyly, "a railroad track running into the distance is a classic way of thinking about perspective."

"There are no longer any railroad tracks on that snowmobile trail." I countered.

"Anyway." I continued "I think we're a bit beyond talking about mere perspective now."

We both thought about this for a minute and then I said; "Red?"


"Nice try. kiddo."

"Thanks Grandpa."

She sighed deeply and we both sat quietly for a while and looked at the shed.

She finally broke the silence; "So Grandpa, are you ever going to tell me why you stopped the other day as we walked towards the shed. You made it sound so important. What's so important if it can wait so long to explain?"

Wow, I'd forgotten all about that. So I guess I'm off the hook on the homework front. What a relief.

I said; "Well, we stopped there because we could stop there. It's that simple.".

"Well, duh! Of course we could. But why is that such a big deal?"

"It is a big deal." I insist. "But it's also a subtle point so it's one we tend to overlook in our day-to-day lives."

"I don't get it."

"No, look, we originally decided to walk to the shed. Right?"

"Okay, right."

"And if we had kept walking in that direction we would eventually have run into the shed. Right?"

"If you say so."

"That's right. And at that point we would no longer have the option of NOT going to the shed. The shed would have made that decision for us. And at the same instant, the shed also made the decision - for us - as to when to stop."

"That's silly, Grandpa. The shed can't make decisions. To do that, it would have to be able to think. And, I don't care what you say, sheds can't think."

"Of course, you're right. You caught me. I shouldn't have used those words. What I'm trying to say is that when we are far away from the shed it is small because it is just one of a whole bunch of options that are available to us in case we happened to want to go somewhere else besides where we currently are."

"Oka-y-y-y." She didn't sound convinced.

"Look, " I said. "As we sit here, the shed is small because it's just one of many future possibilities that are available to us. Because we live and move in 3-dimentional space, we have the choice of moving around in this space. We can see all the possible places we can move directly to from our current location. Notice that I said 'move directly to'. That's important because even though there are many things places we could go that are behind the shed, we cannot go there directly from where we are now because the shed's in the way. See?"

"You're saying that if we can't see it, we can't go there?"
"Not directly there, no."

"So, since we cannot go there from here, we cannot see what's there from where we are over here."

"But, we can go there. All we have to do is go around the shed."

"Yes, of course we can go there but we don't know that for sure until we get to the shed and look around it."

"Okay, so why is the shed small?"

"Because it has to fit in this space with all the other possible places we could go to from all the way back here." I said, "The more choices we have the smaller they have to be in order to fit with in with all the other possibilities."

"Okay, I get it Grandpa."

At this point I wasn't even sure if I got it. But I was willing to press on if she was.

"But that doesn't explain why we stopped?"

"I'm getting to that." I said. "When we stopped the shed was much bigger, right?"

"Of course. We were closer."

"Yes, but that also meant that the shed dominated more of our potential choices for places we could move directly to from where we were. You could say that it reduced the possible futures from which we could choose. And because there were fewer futures for it to share our space with, there was more space available for it and therefore it grew proportionally in order to fill that space."

"It actually grew." She said doubtfully.

"Yes. You see, if you have the same amount of space and - assuming that the space that's available to us never changes - then if you reduce the number of things that fill that space, then something has to give. Right? The things that remain must get bigger in order to fill the space you have. If it doesn't then you're left with a vacuum. You know that nature abhors a vacuum."

"Ab - what?" she said.

"Abhors, like it really hates it - like it will do anything to prevent it."

"Nice word, grandpa."


"Well anyway," I continued, "so if we hadn't stopped when we did we would have run into the shed and at that point it would have become the only possible future available to us in that direction. And therefore it would have filled the space completely."

"Okay, grandpa,", she said slowly - thinking this thing through - "what you're saying is that as we sit here looking at the shed and everything else around it, we are actually looking into the future?"

"I guess you could say that." I had to think for a minute. "Yes," I said finally, "I guess that's what it is. We're actually looking into the future. Pretty cool huh?"

"Yeah, I guess it's pretty cool." she admitted, cautiously.

Ah, she's the skeptic. Good for her, I thought. Don't believe it just because I say it.

"I've gotta think about this, Grandpa."

Just then her cell phone beeped. She checked her messages.

"It's mom." she said. "She's coming to get me for soccer practice."

"When's your first game?" I asked.

"Saturday at eleven."

"Where is it?"

"At the high school soccer field."

"Can we come and watch?"

"Of course you can, Grandpa."

A car horn honked from the driveway.

"She's not coming in?"

"No, I think we're a little late."

"Well then get out of here." I said playfully.

"See you at soccer, Grandpa." She yelled as she disappeared around the corner of house.


[ Click here to continue to part VI ]

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Into Space with Red part IV - J.J.

This is the fourth in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

 J. J.

My son, J.J. ( Red's dad) had stopped over to help me cut up an old tree that had fallen in the yard during a recent wind storm. It took us a couple hours to cut and stack the wood and to drag the brush to a pile for later burning. We were sitting on the back porch enjoying a cold lemonade and admiring the nice wood pile that we had built. We were flush with the feeling of job well done - and from the exercise. And then our conversation turned away from the wood.

"So, Dad," he said, "Red tells me that you guys have been walking and talking."

"Indeed we have, J.J.. And I must say you have raised a very bright young lady there."

"Yeah, I know." He added proudly. "She's a straight 'A' student, you known - always has been."

"Well, she's a joy to talk to and she's quick to pick up on new ideas."

"Well, about that, Dad; her mom and I are a little concerned that you are filling her head with a bunch of nonsense."

"What nonsense?"

"Dad"; he laughed. "Remember who you're talking to here. I know about some of your wild ideas - first hand. You and I used to take walks too, remember?"

"Yes, of course I remember. Those were great times and we had a lot of fun with it. Didn't we?"

"Yes, they were great - and yes, we did."; He admitted.

"And what's so wild about expanding your mind a little?" I pleaded; "What's so wild about thinking out-of-the-box once and a while. It's good exercise."

"I know that, Dad."

I pressed on; "And it's an exercise these kids don't get nearly enough of. Everything they see and hear tries to make them conform to some standard. Even in school - especially in school - they teach them how to pass standardized tests so that the teachers and the school systems can rank highly on some scale so that they get money to continue operation."

"Dad, Dad, Dad, " He interrupted, "you're preaching to the choir here. I know all this. I agree with you!" He continues; "It's just that her mother is worried that you're going to get her in trouble."

"How can I get her in trouble by just talking about 'what if'"

"You know how some institutions in our society react to new ideas and how they treat other people who think too far outside of their little boxes."

"Yes," I admitted, "I remember that, too. But what does that have to do with Red?"

"Well she talks to her friends and to her teachers and she's been telling them about what you guys are talking about."

"That's great. Maybe it will get them all thinking a little outside of the box. How can that hurt?"

"Her mom doesn't want her to be stigmatized any more than she already is."

"How is she stigmatized 'already'?"

"She's a smart kid who gets straight 'A's'. Dad, where have you been? She's already labeled a 'nerd' and soon she'll be old enough for Jr. High where the 'cool kids' always make fun of the nerds."

"So what?"  I insist. "Let them make all the fun they want. In a few years she'll be writing her doctoral thesis while these cool kids are saying 'Do you want fry's with that'.

"I know, Dad. But life is all about making connections and networking with other people. If she starts coming across like some whack job maybe her teachers and counselors will shy away from her and not give her the support she needs in order to get into a good school."

"Oh poop! I can't believe that would happen."

"Neither can I, Dad, but Gwen and I just don't want Red to miss out because of some whack-o ideas you put in her head during these walks of yours."

"Yeah, but you know that we're just thinking! We're just having an adventure of the mind. We're not even imagining that we're right or that we're even asking the right questions or anyting. This is just a mental exercise. A puzzle to keep our minds sharp and open to new ways of lookng at things."

"Nobody knows that better than me, Dad." He sighed; "I remember some of the walks you and I took when I was young."

"Those were great. Why'd we stop."

"Maybe I got too busy with other things: sports, girls, you know..."

"Yeah, I know. That stuff kind of takes over. But that was too bad. We had some interesting adventures."

"I remember walking down those old train tracks and talking about what our souls are made of and where they come from."

"We had fun with that didn't we? "

"Yeah, we sure did ...."

J. J. and I just sat there for a while quietly thinking back on those days when he was young and we used to take long walks together - adventures of the mind. Our favorite place to walk was along the old railroad line that crosses the road just down from our house. This used to worry his mother because she was always afraid that we'd get hit by a train or something. I don't think I ever saw - or heard - more than one train a month go by on those old tracks and by then the tracks were in such bad shape that the trains were never going more than a few miles per hour. Not likely to sneak up on you or catch you off guard.

Those tracks are gone now. They've pulled them all up and replaced them with a bike path / snowmobile trail. Nobody uses trains anymore. Too bad.

J. J. finally broke the silence; "I think we were onto something there, Dad. You know?"

"I know J. J., I do too. We were very close to figuring that out - I think."

"Yeah, too bad we gave it up, huh."

"J. J"; I said.


"This story is about Red and me, you know."

"Oh, yeah." Our brief revery broken; he continued; "I guess you're right."

I sighed; "The story of the tracks is for another time and another place."

"You're right, Dad. I guess I'd better get going, huh."

"Thanks for coming over and helping with the wood. That really means a lot to me and I still love doing things together whenever we get the chance."

"Me too, Dad. I wish I had more time. But you know with family and work and all...."

"I know. Give my love to Gwen -and tell her not to worry so much, Okay? And tell Red that I'm waiting to continue our adventure."

"Will do, Dad. Love you."

"I love you too."; I said as he turned and walked inside to say goodbye to his Mother.

I just sat there for a while, thinking about the adventures J. J. and I used to have; and trying to remember all the things we used to talk about as we walked. I wish those tracks were still there. If I remember right, they were part of the framework around which we fashioned our theories and 'experiments' at the time - they would help us remember - if we ever wanted to go back and try to pick up where we left off. Oh, well. Like I said, that's another story.

[ Click here to continue to Part V ]

[ Click here to go back to beginning chapter]

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Into space with Red part III

This is the third in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

The 'journey' Continues.

It was a couple more weeks before I saw Red again. She and her mom - my daughter-in-law - were shopping and they wanted to show grandma what bargains they'd found. After some time, Red sneaked away and found me in my workshop.

"Hi, Grandpa! Have you thought of an experiment yet? "

"Oh, hi Red. It's great to see you, too! And yes I'm fine - thanks for asking."; I kidded.

"Come on grandpa. Seriously, have you thought about our project or not?"

" As a matter of fact, I have."

" That's good because I haven't got a thing."

"You don't? I'm surprised to hear that."

"I'm sorry, grandpa, I guess I didn't finish my home work."


"I was supposed to come up with some ideas or suggestions or something." she said downheartedly.

"Red, don't be silly. There's no homework here." I laughed.

She seemed to perk up a little with this.

I continued; "This isn't school. We're just talking and thinking and letting our minds roam a little bit. If anything, this is anti-school." And right away I wondered if I should have said that.

But Red picked up on my thought. "Like brainstorming! We do that in school all the time, Grandpa."

"Yes, exactly like brainstorming." I said; relieved because she let me off the hook. I don't want to butt heads with the institution of school. And I don't want to give Red any reason to discount the value of what they are doing at school - any more than she might already have, that is.

"Anyway,"  I continued "the only assignment you ever have with me is to come and visit me and bring along your most excellent brain so we can 'storm' together."

"Oh, alright, grandpa. I can do that."  she said with a playful grin. I think I embarrassed her a little because I noticed a little flush coming to her cheeks.

"So," she continued brightly; "what experiment have you come up with?"

As I cleaned the oil from my hands, I explained; "What I'm thinking about is not so much an experiment as it is another walk."

"Okay, I'll bite, grandpa. Where to?"

"Let's walk back over to that shed in the back yard."

"We've already done this, Grandpa .. "; She said skeptically; ".. and it didn't prove anything."

"Well, maybe. But this time could be different."; I say, slyly.

As we started walking around the house and towards the shed, I continued; "Remember we were talking about multiple universes and how they might all fit. And then you said 'fit what?'"

She laughed; "Yeah, that blew your mind, didn't it."

"It did ..";  I admitted; ".. for a while.".

By now we had walked to about 20 feet from the shed and I said; "Let's stop here."

"Okay, why?'

"Notice that nothing has changed from the last time we made this walk, right?"

"Right. "

"Right - but only nearly right." I corrected. "Nothings has changed except that now -- if we believe our eyes and open our minds to your multiple universe idea -- I propose that, as we were going past the house on our way out here, the shed really was small and now it has really grown to nearly it's full size."

"Okay, so we're right back where we started because this is what you were trying to tell me before and you, yourself, said that you were just pulling my leg."

"Maybe I was - and maybe I wasn't." I said coyly. "But now you have come up with this idea of separate universes which gives us a different perspective - or, if you will, a different reality upon which to base our investigation (remember when the earth 'became' no longer flat)."

"Okay. So?"

"So, now let's turn and, instead of going to the shed, let's walk over to that fence post over there."
We walked over to this one fence post which was beyond the shed and off to it's side about 20 feet - when looking from the house.

"Okay." She said when we reached the fence post; "Now the fence post is big (as big as as it can get) but the shed is still a little bit smaller than it can get. I don't see what has changed just because we decided not to go all the way to the shed and to come over here, instead." 

"Okay, think about what we have just done on this little walk."

"We walked from the house towards the shed and then we stopped and instead of going to the shed we turned away and we walked to this fence post."

"So, let's break that down a little bit. How far would you say we have walked?"

"I don't know. Maybe about half a football field."

"Okay, about 150 feet all together." That was probably a little overestimating but it didn't matter to the point I was trying to make.

"And how long would you say it took us to walk here?"

"About 5 minutes. It would've been less if we hadn't stopped to talk."

"Yeah, I know but let's say five minutes." I pressed on;  "So the difference between when we passed the house and when we got to the fence post was about 150 feet AND about 5 minutes."

"So.. "; She offered; ".. we could say we were walking about 3 feet per minute. NOT very fast, grandpa, is that your point."

"No, Red - but good cyphering - my point is that our little walk not only took us through space but it also took us through time!"

"Whoa, grandpa. Good one." You could almost see the light go on over her head.

Then she continued;  " I think I see where you're going here: You're saying that what separates our universes is time - not spaceTime is what makes it possible for them all to fit. Am I right?"

"Well, partially."; I continue; "Since we passed through both space and time to get from there to here, it must be some combination of both space and time. I think they call it 'Space/Time'."

"They've got a word for it?"

"Yes."; I confessed; "You don't think this was all my idea do you?"

"Well, grandpa, you never know with you, you know?"

"Thanks, Red. That's nice of you to say. But remember that we're not the only ones thinking about this. And some of those people thinking about it have been thinking this - and studying this - for most of their lives."

"They've been thinking about your shed?"; She asked, incredulously.

"That's right," I said, not to be outdone, "I'm continually kicking them off of my back porch. They're becoming a real pest."

"Kinda like the squirrels. "; She laughed.

"Yes, yes, yes - just like the squirrels."

I continued; "But grandma's always offering these guys coffee and cookies. It just makes it so much harder for me to ask them to leave."

"Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to kick them out - maybe grandma's got something there, you know. Maybe you could learn something from them."

"You might be right, Red, but - like the squirrels - I really don't understand their language."

"I know what you mean."; She sighed.

About then we heard someone calling Red's name. It was her Mom on the back porch telling her that it was time to go. So we headed back to the house.

"Grandpa?" She asked as we crossed the porch, "So, why did we stop this time and walk to the fence post instead of going on to the shed?"

"I was hoping you'd catch that."; I said slyly - as I opened the door for her to go in. "Give it some thought and we'll talk about it next time you come over. Okay?"

"Okay, grandpa."; She laughed.

 She gave me a quick hug and she was gone.

[ Continue at Part IV ]

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Into Space with Red - part II.

This is the second in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

 Red comes back for more.

"Hi Grandpa"; Red sang as she plopped down next to me on the back porch swing. "What-cha doin'?"

"Hi yourself!" I laughed; "Just sitting - and watching the birds - and thinking about things."

"Sounds like fun."; she said skeptically.  "So what-cha thinkin' about?"

"Oh, you know, the usual things - time, space, the meaning of life. Nothing special."

"Hey, you know, me too."; she said seriously.

I was suddenly intrigued. "Oh really?" I asked; "I'm glad to hear that. So what've you come up with?"

" I was thinking about what we were talking about last time, you know, our little experiment with the shed."

"I remember."; I said. But then I admitted; "You know I was just messing with you about that, don't you?"

"Well, duh!"; she laughed.  "Ya think?"

We both laughed but then she got a serious look and she added; "But - what if it's true? What if that's the way things really work?"

I stopped laughing. "What?"

"Well, you know, what if things really do get smaller when they are farther away?"

"Red, I said I was just pulling your leg about that."

"I know that, Grandpa."; Red insisted; "But what if it's really true?"

"Okay."; I said slowly.  Really I had been hoping she would think about this some more. Even if I was pulling her leg, I was only half serious in doing so. I have been thinking about this too; not because we - either Red or me - will come up with any revolutionary new ideas, but because it gives me a great opportunity to think outside the box a little bit. I've always found it fun to do this and I am thrilled to hear that my grand-daughter finds it fun as well. And it gives us something in common to talk about; which is difficult sometimes with a teenager.

I wanted to hear more. "What are you thinking?"

"Well?" she continued cautiously; "See, it's like this: We know that things look smaller when they are farther away from us. Right?"


"We also know that they appear to be normal size when we are next to them. Right?"


"And, your little experiment the other day didn't really prove any different because when I stayed by the shed and you walked away, you told me that I looked smaller - along with the shed. And I knew that I hadn't changed size and that the shed hadn't changed size either."

"Right, again."

"And when I looked at you, you looked smaller to me too. But you said that you hadn't changed size either." She continued; "And, therefore, since you and I are both like objects existing in the same universe we can both trust that we share the same reality and in this reality neither of us - nor the shed - can change size. Right?"

"Okay. So?"

"So, both you and I say that the other looks smaller as we separate but both of us know that we really stay the same size."

"That's true." I agreed.

"So, this is a paradox that can only be rationalized by calling it an optical illusion."

She's a pretty smart kid. And she's obviously been giving this a lot of thought. So I pressed on; "But didn't you just say that things really do get smaller. But, I thought my little experiment proved otherwise."

"I said that your experiment didn't prove anything because it really didn't test the hypothesis."

Where did she get this vocabulary? I'm becoming more and more impressed with our school system if they've already been talking about this in Jr. High.

She continued; "Remember when you said that everybody used to think the earth was flat and that it was the center of the universe?"

"I remember."

"Well, when they had that belief they also must have based all their other beliefs on that basic truth, don't you think?  And, I would imagine that if people wondered about some phenomenon and if they thought about experiments to test something about this phenomenon, they would base their tests on what they already believed to be reality."

"Yes, I can imagine they did. How else can you do it? "

"Right." She agreed; "That's the only way that makes sense. But once it was proven that the earth was not, in fact, flat and that it was also not the center of the universe, all those other phenomenon that had been tested against the old truths had to be re-evaluated."

 "Wow, you really have been thinking about this."; I marveled. "But, how does that effect my little experiment?"

"I said that your experiment failed because we believe that we are like objects in the same universe and therefore cannot really change size. But what if we don't share exactly the same universe? Why couldn't there be differences between your universe and mine?"

"What do you mean. Of course we share the same universe. Just look around. Everything you see I see. Everything you feel, I feel. It's all in the same place. It all behaves the same way for you as it does for me. Everything looks exactly the same to you as it does to me!"

"Ah hah!"; She interrupted. "But it doesn't look exactly the same. We just proved that, remember!"

"Hmmm, you're right - I guess - if you put it that way."

"I do put it that way"; She insisted. "When you are standing over there and I'm standing over here, the shed looks different to you than it does to me.  I even look different to you than I do to me. And everything around me looks just a little bit different to me than it does to you."  "Maybe we need to trust our own eyes a little bit more than we do - than we have been trained to do."

"Well, yes - I guess that makes sense. But didn't Einstein deal with this in his theory of relativity? Didn't he say that the universe looks different depending on your frame of reference. He came up with the elevator example."

"The elevator?"

"Yeah, it's like when you're inside an closed elevator car your perception of motion, gravity,  and many other things changes. He said that the universe is the same to all of us but it just seems to be different based on our speed we are traveling compared to other things and also based on our mass and energy."

"But did he think about why that shed looks smaller?"

"I really don't know." I admitted. "I think his point was that the same basic physical laws apply to all of us but the variables change (except for the speed of light). So I guess he maybe didn't talk about the shed looking smaller."

"Well let's just say - for the sake of argument - that he didn't." She persisted. "Let's just imagine that we all exist in our own copy of the universe. Maybe 99.9 percent of all of these universes is the same, but there is just that little bit that is different and makes each one unique.

"But," I protested; "a universe is a pretty big thing. If everything has its' own copy, how would everything fit?"

"Fit what? Fit where?"; She asked, slyly.

"Hey wait"; I laughed; "Now who's messing with whom?"

"You're right, Grandpa. You see, two can play at this game so don't start something you can't finish."

"Touche'" I said; "And don't think I'm giving up or quitting the game. But I need a little time-out to catch up."

"I don't know how any of this would work." She admitted. "Or how any of it would be possible, but it's fun to think about. And hey; you're the one with all the experiments. Why don't you come up with an experiment to solve this problem? Huh?"

"Well I just might do that. But before you do an experiment, you need a hypothesis. Experiments TEST hypotheses. You just can't do an experiment for the sake of doing an experiment. Like, should we drop an apple and a feather from the same height and call it an experiment to test your duplicate universe idea?"

"Maybe." She said coyly. "But, you're right, I can't imagine how that would help us with this."

"No," I said, "I don't have any hypothesis right now so let's think about this and maybe we can come up with some ideas." 

"How about a quick game of chess?"; I offered.

"Hah! Grandpa, you never play a quick game of chess. You take forever to move."

I thought about this for a minute. And then I thought about it for another minute.

Finally she said "Grandpa, are you alright?"

"Oh, ah yes. I was just thinking about chess."

"See!" she said triumphantly. "You're even slow when you think about playing chess."

"Hey, be nice." I protested. "But you're probably right - now that I think about it."

"Now that you think about it? But that's the whole problem. "

"Yes, I realize that. But it's not a bad thing to take your time and think things through."

"Well, it's boring and I really gotta go. You keep thinking things through - get back to watching the birds."

"Hmmm." I said as she ran down the steps and around the side of the house and was gone.

I did have a lot to think about.

[ Continue to Part III ]

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Trip into space with my granddaughter, Red.

This is the first in a series of travel logs about a particular expedition that Jack shared with his grand-daughter Red. 

Me and Little Red

I was sitting on the porch with my grand-daughter, Red, and we were talking about a Beekman cartoon in the Sunday paper where he was explaining how to draw pictures using vanishing points to make your drawings more realistic looking.

"I know all about this"; She said; "We've learned about perspective in Art Class."

I said; "Really?"

She continued; "Yeah, Grandpa. When you draw a picture you need to draw the things that are close up bigger than the things which are far away so that things look real - so that your picture looks the same as what we actually see when we look at things."

"Realistic?"; I ventured.

"Yeah, like what's in the real world"; She said.

"So, in the real world, things that are far away are smaller than things that are close up?"

"No, Grandpa."; She laughed; "They're not really smaller. They just look smaller."

She pointed towards an old garden shed by the back fence; "See that old shed?"


"See how small it looks over there?"

"Yes, it looks pretty small."

She extended one arm towards the shed and said; Stretch out your arm like this and stick your thumb up."

I did as she asked.

"Now close one eye and move your thumb so that it covers the shed."

I did and, sure enough, it did completely cover the shed.

"See", She said; "You can cover the whole thing with just your thumb."

Of course, I knew all about this - I've had an art class or two along the way, myself. But I was in a good mood so I thought I'd give Red a bit of a hard time.

"So"; I asked, "you're trying to tell me that the shed is really smaller than my thumb?"

"No, Grandpa Jack, Don't be silly. It's not really smaller. It just looks smaller because it's way over there. "

 "Oh, I don't know." I said seriously; "I think it might really be smaller."

Red looked at me like I'd gone mad. : "It can't really be smaller; that would be impossible!"

"Okay, let's try a little experiment."; I pressed; "Let's you and me walk over to that shed and see whether it's really as small as it looks." 

The experiment:

Red gave me a puzzled look as we started towards the shed. And sure enough, as we walked towards it, the shed got larger. Pretty soon Red said; "See, it's bigger than my whole hand."

And when we were right up against it, we saw that it was full size (just as we expected). We could see that in reality it was bigger than my thumb. In fact, it was much bigger than we were. She said smugly; "I knew it would be."

I offered; "But does this really PROVE that objects which are far away are NOT really smaller?"

Red gave me another funny look and said; "Yes, because we have walked over here and we can see with our own eyes that it is really large."  

I  countered: "But the question is whether things are really smaller when they are far away. When we were over there by the house and the shed was far away, was it REALLY smaller than your thumb? Or did it, as you believe, just look smaller?"

Red looked more puzzled but I pressed my point; "As we stand next to the shed it is very big, sure, but we are no longer far away so have we really proven that it was not really smaller when we were far away?"

To this she said; "But, Grandpa, We can touch it and we can feel that it's a solid building and not an inflatable-like-thing that somehow inflates as we get closer or deflates as we move farther away. We both know that things can't grow and shrink like that. So, how can it get smaller? How can it possibly change size - huh?"

My grand-daughter was pretty convinced by this evidence that what she sees with her own eyes and she feels with her own hands; along with what she knows is, in fact, true. But I had another idea:

I proposed; "What if I walk away again but this time you stay here next to the shed and tell me if it's getting smaller."

When I was some distance away, I looked back and sure enough the shed looked like it was small again. But this time I called to my grand-daughter and asked if the shed is still large.

She, of course, replied; "Yes, it's still large over here, it hasn't changed since you left".
 Then she asked; "Does it look smaller to you from over there?"

When I said; "Yes." She gloated;"Ah hah -  see? It's just as I said, things really don't grow and shrink as we move closer and farther away."

As she walked over to join me she continued; "So this proves it. This proves that it must be an illusion. And since the shed just looks smaller it could be called an optical illusion, right?"

I said to myself; "Smart kid."

I wasn't ready to give up, yet.

"But wait!"; I ventured;  "I notice that as I walked away, both you and the shed got smaller. So how do I trust you to tell me if the shed wasn't smaller when you were smaller as well." I continued; "You could no longer be trusted because you had become part of the experiment. You lost your objectivity. You lost your perspective."

Red gave me an exasperated sigh and said; "But, grandpa Jack, you're trying to tell me that I shrunk as you walked away from me?"  "Now you're just talking crazy, grandpa"; she laughed.
"As you walked away from me, you got smaller too. But you didn't really get smaller did you?"

I had to admit that I didn't feel any smaller as I walked away.  And I didn't look any smaller to myself. "But"; I countered. "That doesn't prove anything either because, just like you, I had become part of the experiment and hadn't changed the distance between me and myself so of course,  from my vantage point,  I had remained the same size."

Poor Red had just about had it with me by now.

She pleaded; "But grandpa, you and I both know that physical objects don't just expand and shrink. They are hard, solid objects and they are not flexible enough to expand and contract." She continued; "And we, ourselves, don't get bigger and smaller either. We can't do it even if we wanted to! We know this! Everybody knows this. She concluded; "So when things look smaller in the distance it must be exactly that; they just look smaller! It's just an optical illusion, grandpa!"

Too much?

I could see that Red had had just about enough of this conversation so I didn't suggest a second experiment that I thought would further test this hypothesis.

"You're absolutely right, Red." I offered. "Of course we all know that what you say is true. But, remember that there was once a time in human history - not really that long ago - when everyone knew that the earth was flat and that it was really the center of the universe. It was obvious - how could it be otherwise?"

I continued; "Everyone could see that the sun and moon and all the stars rotated around the earth. All you had to do was to look up and see the sun rise up in the morning, travel across the sky and set in the evening. And the moon and stars moved the same way across the nighttime sky. You could see it with your own eyes! And, " I added, "all the smart people knew this was true as well: the government, the scientists, and the religious leaders all had figured this out and knew that this was how the universe worked."

Red smiled at me and said; "Sure, grandpa, I know that. But we're smarter now. We know a lot more about our universe than they did back then."

To this I replied; "But do you think we know everything?"

She stood up and said; "I'd love to stay and talk, Grandpa Jack, but Mom just texted - I've gotta go home, now."

Red gave me a big hug and then ran off and left me alone with my thoughts.  And, knowing Red, I was sure that I had sent her home with some thoughts of her own.

[ Continue to Part II ]